Studies in First Corinthiansby Bob Burridge ©2018
Lesson 33: 1 Corinthians 13:4b (ESV)
Strong Enough to be Kind
When we’re told that a person is “strong”, there are a few different ways to understand that. We might think of him as being very muscular and can lift heavy things, and physically intimidate others. Or we might think of him as having a domineering personality that takes over situations, and can manipulate others to get his own way.
In one sense people like that really are strong.
But there’s another kind of strength, one that the muscular and powerfully manipulative might lack.
– It’s the kind of strength that doesn’t have to prove itself, and doesn’t have to control everything.
– It’s the kind that isn’t easily intimidated or tempted to set aside basic principles.
– It’s the kind that’s able to give up some personal comforts to help others in serious need.
Because of that inner-strength a person can encourage someone who’s rude to him.
– He can show sensitivity when others are making fun of someone, or belittling others.
– He can do what’s right and good even when it’s not popular.
There may be more strength in a kind, unassuming person than we might expect. In contrast, a person who sees kindness as weakness, is much weaker inwardly than others might think.
It takes a lot of strength to be kind.
Our fallen hearts don’t naturally show a sincere and true kindness. So where does a genuine and God honoring kindness come from?
1 Corinthians 13:4 tells us that kindness is one of
the characteristics of what love was meant to be.
After telling us that “Love is patient …”, it tells us that a true biblical love is also “kind”.
The word translated as “kind”, and it’s noun “kindness”, are used many times in the New Testament. “Kind” translates the Greek word “chraesteu-omai” (χρηστεῦομαι). In Galatians 5:22 it’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit. There in noun form it’s translated “gentleness” (KJV), “kindness” (ESV, NASB & NIV). Greek dictionaries define it as: “mildness, respectability, kindness, friendliness, goodness, honesty, hospitality, and benevolence”. They all come close to its basic meaning. So in English, the words “gentleness” and “kindness” are about as close as we can get to its meaning.
There are other words used in the Bible that expand on this basic characteristic. In Colossians 3:12 Paul groups kindness with other words that show this self-sacrificing kind of love. It says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” The believer in Christ should show this caring and respectful attitude toward others.
It might show itself in different ways in different personalities. But in all those restored to fellowship with God by grace, there should be a pleasantness about them, a gentle kindness. This is by no means a weak trait. It takes a mighty soul to be truly humble.
In our previous study, we saw that the first characteristic of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is “patience”. It’s a more passive quality. It’s a willingness to put up with uncomfortable circumstances for a long time. Since God puts this quality of love in the believer’s heart, he learns to trust in God’s larger plan, even when he doesn’t see how everything that happens fits in to it. He waits on God’s timing when things don’t move at the speed he might prefer.
But “kindness” is more of an active trait. It reaches out to treat others with respect, looking for ways to encourage them in godly attitudes, and it tries to understand their struggles. It packages the message of grace with a display of how it works itself out in a redeemed life.
God is perfectly kind.
But he certainly isn’t weak. He’s the all powerful Creator and Sustainer.
Isaiah 40:11 describes the gentleness of God in the imagery of a shepherd. “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”
There’s nothing weak about a shepherd. They were outdoorsmen, strong defenders, and rugged providers. Yet they knew how to be kind to the sheep they protected and cared for as we see in the 23rd Psalm.
Rebellious straying sheep were sometimes picked up and carried on the Shepherd’s shoulders. He had to attack and kill predators that dared to move in on his flock. He spent nights out on the hills exposed to storms and dangers with his sheep. He walked miles to lead them to fields of tender grass and quiet streams.
We love to see little kids dressed as shepherds in Sunday School and Christmas programs, but we shouldn’t get the impression that shepherding was for the weak. It’s a tough and demanding job because the basic ingredient is an overwhelming caring for the sheep. They need to be so dedicated to their responsibilities that they risk their lives and comfort to get the job done for those they’re hired to care for with tender compassion.
God’s kindness moved him to do amazing things that only an all-powerful God could do. It was kindness that stirred his heart to redeem us from sin. Ephesians 2:7 tells us that God’s kindness is an element of what sent Christ to be our Redeemer. It says, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
Titus 3:4-5 shows how fundamental God’s kindness is in our being saved: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” His mercy and kindness led to a bold and victorious act of strength.
Romans 2:4 lets us know what moves God to work in our hearts: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”
God’s kindness come from deep inside his eternal nature. If God treated us as we deserved, we would suffer the fires and separation of eternal hell. But the kindness that moved in God’s heart comes from his love, and expresses itself in his mercy and grace.
When Jesus said we should love our enemies, he added a comment about God’s kindness. Luke 6:35, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” It’s not easy to be kind to the ungrateful and evil.
Some might picture kind people as weak push-overs or wimps. But King David didn’t see the gentleness of God that way at all as Psalm 18 shows us. It’s a Psalm where David was calling for God’s protection from the attacking armies of King Saul. In verses 34-35 he wrote, “He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.” God’s gentle kindness is clear even while he prepares his people to stand against evil.
A kind person doesn’t set aside justice, or let evil work freely in the world. The redeemed warrior doesn’t go to war with a lust for killing and for doing harm. He doesn’t take out unjust vengeance on civilians or the land. He doesn’t forget the tragedy of having to end human lives, even though it may be the only way to stop the advance of law-breakers.
He goes to battle with a sense of justice against agressors who violate God’s ways. He valiently defends his home, his country, and the liberty to live freely honoring God’s principles. Kindness loves God and the victims of evil, and is willing to step into harm’s way to protect what God loves. But he does it honorably, respectfully, not with selfish or inhumane rage, but with a humble sense of duty to God.
Just as God is kind, we must be kind too.
As one of the characteristics of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, kindness should be growing in us. Until we learn to be kind and gentle, we’re not like Christ. When the quality of kindness is missing in our hearts, our demeanor shows harshness, meanness, calousness, and self-importance. The world might see rough people like that as strong. But they are really shallow and weak. They can’t stand to have someone take advantage of them or treat them badly. The believer is able in Christ to be gentle and kind regardless of the situation.
As Adam’s descendants, we’re all born without this virtue. Romans 3:12 quotes the Psalms saying, “no one does good, not even one.” It might surprise you that the Greek word “good” in this verse is “chraestotaes” (χρηστότης),
the noun form of the same word used for kindness in 1 Corinthians 13.
But what we can’t be in our fallen nature, we must become in Christ. We’re created to show forth God’s attributes as well as we can by the power of Christ in us.
If God is gentle and kind — so must we. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” The next words immediately after this verse in 5:1-2 say, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Of course we can never imitate his power and goodness infinitely and perfectly. But we must prayerfully labor to imitate his moral nature and love by the power implanted into our redeemed souls by grace.
Forgiveness is challenging. Where it doesn’t violate justice, it’s our duty. It’s hard to be kind toward those who offend or harm us. But, while we leave justice in the hands of God, and its earthly execution to the civil courts of law, we should show kindness and gentleness even to the undeserving.
God’s love implanted in us by the Holy Spirit, is in us to produce a gentle behavior and attitude to our neighbors. When we’re kind we become an illustration of grace at work in our otherwise graceless hearts.
Micah 6:8 summarizes what God says is good, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
This is a profound way to put it.
God not only calls us to be kind, but also to love kindness. To delight God we must love his kindness to us and love showing it to others. If you don’t love the kindness of God, and love to have his kindness seen in you, then you are not good as Micah defines it. God is not delighted in you. The Hebrew word for “kindness” here is “khesed” (חסד) which means: “lovingkindness, mercy, kindness”. God requires this of us. Just as God shows mercy and lovingkindness, he commands that kindness should be honored and reflected in us as his people.
And notice that we are to love kindness and to do justice. There is never a conflict between these two. God doesn’t set justice aside when he shows his mercy to us. He fully satisfied that justice by the death of our Savior in our place. Mercy finds a way to meet both the demands of justice and still to be kind. We too need to respect the demands of justice when people break civil laws. We are to be personally kind, even as penalties must be justly handed out.
What can we do to be improving this grace in us?
First, we need to remember that kindness is a work of the Holy Spirit. Since it’s both a fruit of the Holy Spirit and the 2nd characteristic of God implanted love, this gentle kindness is something the Holy Spirit produces by God’s grace genuinely at work in us. He enables us and empowers us to develop kindness as described in his word of truth.
Therefor it’s right and necessary to pray confidently and regularly to God that he will make us gentle and kind to others in every situation.
Second, we need to be actively working on being kind. When God tells us to do something, it obligates us to a dedicated effort toward it. In Colossians 3:12 we are commanded to put on kindness. We have a whole new set of clothes to wear as believers. The outfits of the soul that were perfectly fine to the world, are no longer appropriate.
Though the Spirit’s fruit is a work of grace in our hearts, we’re not told to wait idly by until it develops. Obedience is an active thing. Its a duty, a calling, and an obligation. It demonstrates and confirms that we’re truly born again. The lack of such fruit leaves us without evidence that we are truly his. God tells us to put forth a diligent effort to do what he requires.
Third, we need to study good examples of kindness. The Bible is filled with stories of kindness and gentleness. King David showed gentle kindness toward his rebellious son, Absolom. When Absolom led a rebellion against his father, David cautioned his soldiers in 2 Samuel 18:5 saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” David was a great king and warrior, a rugged shepherd, yet a man of great kindness.
1 Peter 2:21-23 shows us the perfect example of kindness in Jesus. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
To many who still revile him today, he reveals his love and salvation. Those redeemed are not innocents. They — we — are sinners saved by grace.
We need to fill our minds with good examples like that. When our exposure is mainly to the self-defensive self-promoting heros of today we become like them in arrogance, quick-witted cutting remarks, put-down comments, vengeance, getting even, and even violence. The really strong soul puts self aside and learns to be kind.
It’s our duty to display Christ’s kindness in our daily lives.
Being kind and gentle doesn’t mean we smile stupidly while evil mocks justice. It does not mean that we don’t take a stand for what’s right. But it does mean that in every circumstance, particularly when we are taken advantage of, we deal with the problem justly while showing gentleness and kindness.
Instead of treating wrong doers or annoying people the way they deserve, we treat them as God commands us to treat them — showing gentle kindness.
We are commanded to develop an inward attitude that’s kind and gentle. Not like the “attitude” that’s so typical of our culture today. The really stronghearted aren’t the swaggering, comic-book tough and angry ones. We should be like the Lord Jesus Christ who showed us how to be gentle. We need to keep godly examples before us to fill our minds so we can model them.
We should be sure our words show kindness. Our conversation and answers must be seasoned with gentleness. That means avoid harsh, mean, and self-serving comments. Proverbs 15:1 gives us this advice, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
We are to cultivate actions that show kindness. As parents, spouses, neighbors, servants, leaders, children, and friends, there is no excuse for a failure to be kind.
Our duty is to become an example to others of Jesus Christ. If we dare to take his name and call ourselves “Christians”, yet we’re cruel, harsh, uncaring and self-important, then we present a distorted Christ to the world.
It’s tough to be gentle. True kindness and gentleness is not for wimps. It’s usually a hard thing to do, but it’s the mature thing. It takes a strong person to be kind to those we love and to those who are unkind. But that’s exactly what God promises we can be.
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)